Tips for productive writing

Patricia Goodson's book, Becoming an Academic Writer has some great ideas for all writing. I've summarised some for you.

  1. Create a daily writing habit
  2. Overcome procrastination
  3. Eliminate distractions
  4. Use a timer
  5. Divide your project into small tasks
  6. Track your progress

1. Create a daily writing habit

First you need to see yourself as a ‘writer’. Like all professionals you need to make it a priority and practice every day. Keep it small to start, it can be an email, notes in a diary or journal – anything. As you write follow this little plan: think about who’s the reader and what they want to know or what is that they want to experience? Find information on the topic. Plan out what you are going to say – roughly. Write a first draft. Edit it to see if you have any grammatical mistakes and that it flows, and rewrite the parts you’re not happy with. Read out loud what you have written to an imaginary reader and /or ask someone else to read it and give you some feedback. Rewrite it again after you’ve read it out loud or received any feedback.

2. Overcome procrastination

If you write something every day, you’ll stop seeing that you are procrastinating, but that you need some time to reflect and think about your topic. If you are really not writing anything, start writing with this as an introduction: “I don’t know what to write about and I don’t know anything about _______ topic. What I do know about this topic is ________________.” This helps to get the writing going. Sometimes procrastination is a very bad habit. If you look around at your life, there may be other areas that you delay making decisions about or can’t make a commitment to. If that’s the case, maybe you could learn some simple cognitive-behavioural techniques to overcome it.

3. Eliminate distractions

When you make writing a priority and practice every day, you won’t be able to do some other things in your life. We only have so much time and energy. To start you need to make a list of all the things that you enjoy doing, but will have to be re-prioritised in your life. When writing is a priority you need to turn off your email or only check it at certain times of the day. If you are in a shared office put up a Do Not Disturb sign. Keep the clutter on your desk and computer to a minimum.

4. Use a timer

Some writers find that setting a time to write is the key for them. Start small, set a time for 25-30minutes. Write without stopping. Write whether you ‘feel like it or not’. This is great practice to do at any time.

5. Divide your project into small or manageable tasks

Writing an essay or report is not done in a day. You need to divide your project into tasks with a timeline, so that you work back from the deadline. These are the sorts of tasks you need to complete for an essay or report: find out what’s required, find information on the topic, write the different sections, make time to read the parts of your writing that are unclear 'out loud', and don't forget to edit your grammar and spelling. If you are unsure of the time it will take, overestimate the time. If you do it faster, you’ve got a bonus!

6. Track your progress

To help you learn how long it takes you to do your tasks, keep a record of the time it takes to complete each one, such as: finding information, reading and note-taking, writing and thinking and learning, and editing. In the beginning, because you haven’t done it before, you will notice that it will take longer than you originally thought. Each time you write an essay or a report it will get easier, you will get faster and more efficient because you know what to do, and you also get better each time. Your record keeping will help you learn about yourself and how you improve.